New industrial work: A motivated employee is key to company success

Blog post
Päivi Heikkilä

I have always been interested in people's experiences, feelings and thoughts. When I joined a research project at VTT, launched to support industry, I felt for a while I was in foreign territory. I knew next to nothing of industrial ecosystems, supply chains or ways to make production more efficient. However, when I first met factory workers, my personal attitudes towards industry as a subject of my work changed. Employees told me about the joy and pride that they felt when “a machine rocks”, when work flows smoothly and when a line produces products at full speed. I heard about feelings of appreciation, but also of frustration; sometimes workers felt that instead of successes, the focus was placed on problems and mistakes. I realised that employees’ feelings and experiences could show us a way towards new industrial ways of working.

Factory workers involved in designing the Worker Feedback Dashboard application

During the research project, I had the opportunity to develop a new type of digital application in collaboration with factory employees, the purpose of which was to provide employees data based feedback on the fluency of their work and well-being. The aim was to provide employees encouraging but still realistic feedback that could help them identify good working practices, notice their successes and their development at work, as well as observe one’s well-being and the factors affecting it. At first, some employees were sceptical about the idea. What was supposed to be measured and why? Is this just a new method of supervising us? However, when employees were engaged with designing and testing the application, their attitudes began to change. Employees were interested in monitoring their heart rate and the number of steps they took during a work shift, the time a machine they operated was running during their work shift and how their body reacted when errors occurred. Confidence was also inspired by the fact that measurement data was only given to employees themselves.

The application developed, named Worker Feedback Dashboard (Työfiilis in Finnish), is an example of new digital solutions which can support employees in the disruption of industry and which, through automation and digitalisation, alters working tools and requirements, work roles and familiar working methods. As at least part of industrial work will gradually become more and more similar to knowledge work, solutions that support employees’ independent decision-making and well-being are needed.

Sign up for the webinar to hear more

As for my own work, I already feel rather at home in projects that are related to new industrial work. I feel that I am in the right place, because the most important factor in the success of industrial companies now and in the future - even during an era of robots and artificial intelligence - is a motivated employee, a person whose experiences, feelings and thoughts are taken into account. Employees’ well-being is the key to productivity, the attractiveness of factory work, to learning new skills and to a valuable work community that pulls together.

Our research team has outlined a vision for how new technologies will change the work of factory operators (for more information, see the previous blog post). We are now organising a webinar where the centre stage is taken by the employee in the turmoil of an industrial revolution. Sign up and join us to hear about new industrial work and workers’ well-being (the webinar is in Finnish). With increased automation and digitalisation, new industrial work that supports well-being is within our reach - and the path towards it is now being built.

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Päivi Heikkilä

Päivi Heikkilä

Senior Scientist